How to Keep Meetings On Track

Finish bannerWhen you’re running a meeting, your role as the facilitator is akin to a maps app on your phone. You have a clear destination (the meeting’s goal), and your job is to guide everyone there efficiently. Stray off course? The app recalibrates, just as a skilled facilitator gently steers the conversation back on track.

Ever been in a meeting that starts focused but soon wanders aimlessly, even missing its intended purpose? This doesn’t have to be your meeting’s story.

There are two key practices to keep your meetings directed and productive:

Set a Clear Destination

Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” This wisdom rings true for meetings. Increase your meeting’s success by:

  1. Defining the meeting’s purpose.
  2. Clearly framing the meeting at the start. (See our Aug 28, 2023 newsletter for more on framing meetings effectively.)

Think of this as setting the destination in a maps app. Remember, even in recurring meetings, it’s crucial to align everyone’s understanding of the meeting’s purpose—don’t assume it’s obvious or top of mind.

Stay on the Path

When you deviate from your route, your maps app immediately guides you back. Similarly, as a facilitator, your role is to keep the meeting focused on its objective.

Our preferred tool for course correction? The “parking lot.” This is where off-topic but important points are noted for later discussion. It’s most effective when everyone engages with it. For instance, if a topic veers off course, ask, “This seems off our track towards [meeting’s purpose]. Should we park this for later discussion?”

Typical responses might include:

  1. “Yes, let’s park this.”
  2. “Actually, it’s relevant because…”
  3. “There’s just a small part relevant to our purpose…”

Each response, in its way, redirects focus to the meeting’s main goal.

Remember, establishing the meeting’s purpose upfront is crucial. Without this, steering discussions to the parking lot can seem authoritarian. But with a shared goal, it’s seen as facilitating effectively in service of the group.

Finally, don’t forget to revisit your parking lot. Allocate time towards the meeting’s end to address these points, determining who should be involved and scheduling follow-up discussions. This approach reassures participants that their points won’t be overlooked, fostering trust in the parking lot system.

Learn More

Want to learn more about how to facilitate effective meetings? Check out Facilitating Effective Retrospectives, an online course for anyone interested in facilitating better meetings.

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